News & Views

Opinion / Not Nearly Creative Enough

by Alex Jenkins

At the Google developers' conference last year, CEO Larry Page said something extraordinary when talking about the state of his company and the technological possibilities it's taking advantage of. 'We’re at maybe 1% of what is possible. Despite the faster change, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have.’

Let's pause for a second and remind ourselves that he's talking about Google. A company which has made contact lenses which monitor blood sugar levels, has built driverless cars and has begun working on network protocols for an interplanetary internet. And he thinks THEY’RE moving slow relative to what is possible.

Now let's turn our focus back to adland and apply a similar assessment to what’s going on. What percentage of technological opportunities are you taking advantage of? If you rank yourself on a future-facing par with Google, you're not only pretty confident but you're also still only at 1%.

I think this is worrying when we look to the future, because specifically those technological possibilities are on the increase. Part of that, as we all know, is due to Moore's Law – effectively the number of transistors on a circuit doubling about every 18-months to two years. And then you double the double, and you have an exponential increase of processing power while hardware costs diminish.

But hardware is just part of the picture. When the German mathematician Martin Grotschel analysed the improvements of computational speed between 1988 and 2003 he saw a 1,000-fold improvement in processor speeds. That’s a huge increase in performance by anyone’s standards.

But he also documented an incredible 43,000-fold improvement of software algorithms. The software improvements vastly outstripped the hardware improvements.

Anyone basing their expectations of the future solely on hardware improvements is missing a significant part of the picture and will underestimate the huge advances we’ll see over the next ten years.

When we interviewed the designer Richard Seymour in issue 35 of Contagious Magazine, he observed, ‘For perhaps only the third time in 600 years, what we can do technologically is stretching miles ahead of our ability to imagine what to do with it.’

It’s hard to underestimate the implications of that statement.

We are not limited by our technology but by our creativity.

That is the missing 99% that Larry Page is referring to and it means that there has probably never been a greater need nor opportunity for truly creative people in the world.

Of course, the ad industry has always prided itself on being a creative industry. It’s time to step up and truly deliver on that promise.